Here we are again. The University is no stranger to contention surrounding the issue of free speech. Last year, a student was harassed after posting a sign on her Lawn room door critiquing the University. This sparked a debate over free speech, which was reignited this fall when an event entitled “In Defense of Mr. Jefferson” received backlash for its attempts to glorify a known enslaver who exploited Black labor to construct the University. Just last month, an event hosted by the Federalist Society on abortion drew criticism for being one-sided and platforming a transphobic speaker. Most recently, a University student made national headlines for lamenting the state of free speech at the University. More often than not, this speech was defended by claiming a need for intellectual diversity. In looking at each of these instances, we as an Editorial Board found ourselves questioning what should be protected under the premise of “diversity of thought” and more importantly, what values we choose to accept on Grounds. For us, the answer is simple. Hateful rhetoric is violent — and this is impermissible.
A student organization recently announced its plans to host former vice president Mike Pence this April to speak in Old Cabell Hall. For Pence, gay couples signify a “societal collapse,” Black lives do not matter, transgender individuals and immigrants do not deserve protection and the pandemic should not be taken seriously. Nevertheless, the University has accepted Pence’s visit as an “opportunity to hear from, and engage with, leaders and experts from a wide variety of fields and perspectives.” So-called “perspectives” should not be welcomed when they spread rhetoric that directly threatens the presence and lives of our community members. The LGBTQ+ individuals Pence has attacked, the Black lives he refuses to value and the successful stories of immigration he and the former president hope to prevent — these very people are our peers, our neighbors and our community members. We refuse to condone platforming Pence.
The University’s silence is deafening. Do not mistake this for neutrality, however. To be silent in the face of those like Pence is a choice — in this case, a choice to fail to protect the lives of those on Grounds who Pence blatantly threatens through his rhetoric and policies. To hide behind a sentiment that celebrates engaging with “leaders and experts from a wide variety of fields and perspectives” is to actively undermine the values of diversity, honor, integrity, trust and respect that the University purports to celebrate. Silence in the face of a homophobic, racist and transphobic politician only makes room for such “perspectives” at our University.
While Pence’s stop at the University may be part of a lecture series, it is undeniable that his presence means something fundamentally different here than on other college campuses. Pence plans to “take a stand for America’s founding.” Given recent history, this should sound warning bells. Four years ago, hundreds of white supremacists flocked to Charlottesville to express their racist and violent beliefs. While they descended upon the Downtown Mall in a violent and deadly rally, we must remember — their first stop that weekend was here. We cannot forget this fact — the first place white supremacists felt comfortable expressing themselves was through a torch-lit march on our Grounds. Let us be clear — we must seriously consider the environment we wish to tolerate. Let us not forget that for four years, Pence served alongside the man who called those same white supremacists “very fine people.” Pence’s presence on Grounds signifies a tolerance of rhetoric that has already harmed our community — in fact, the very building that Pence will speak in was constructed to hide Black citizens so as not to disrupt the landscape of Grounds. Though Pence’s language may not be as overt as the white supremacy expressed during the events of Aug. 11 and 12, we must all be concerned about the message his rhetoric could imply we accept.
Simply put, there is a blatant dichotomy between the values that Pence and the University hold. Once so-called politics turn into transphobia, homophobia and racism, they are no longer mere political beliefs — but rather bigotry that threatens the well-being and safety of students on Grounds. The Cavalier Daily’s Editorial Board does not condone platforming an individual that not only denies the existence of our diverse community, but participates in the violent rhetoric that perpetuates harm against these individuals. To our administration — we implore you to do better. Protect your students. To our fellow students and community members, particularly those who have been adversely affected by Pence — we stand with you.
The Cavalier Daily Editorial Board is composed of the Executive Editor, the Editor-in-Chief, the two Opinion Editors, their Senior Associate and an Opinion Columnist. The board can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.